Five-Day Strike at Yale Seeks Better Working Conditions and Respect

Thousands of workers at Yale, President crossed the Bush’s alma mater, began a five-day strike on March 3, seeking decent wages, better pensions, training and advancement opportunities, and job security.

After more than a year of negotiations for new contracts, the 4,000 members of HERE Locals 34 (clerical/technical) and 35 (service/maintenance) walked out, joined by 150 dietary workers, members of 1199NE/SEIU at Yale’s teaching hospital, who are also fighting for a new contract. Also participating in the walkout were members of GESO (Graduate Employees and Students Organization), on the picket line to secure a fair process to unionize.

All 5,000 workers who struck belong to the Federation of Hospital and University Employees at Yale, a unique collaboration between the HERE (Hotel Employees) locals and District 1199NE of SEIU (Service Employees), which is involved in an organizing drive for 1,800 unrepresented service workers at Yale’s hospital.

UNIQUE ALLIANCES

A week of hellish weather featuring sub-zero temperatures, torrential rains, gale-force winds, and a driving snowstorm did not deter the roving picket lines that blanketed Yale’s campus. Religious, student, and union groups came together during the week-long job action to call on the Yale Corporation (Yale’s Board of Trustees) to provide New Haven with decent, secure union jobs.

“We have more people out than ever,” said Nancy Ryan, a senior administrative assistant in psychiatry. “I’ve never seen so much determination and dedication, even at these bone-chilling temperatures.” Michael Mullins, a graduate student employee in the History Department, agreed: “This is an extraordinary expression of the strength of four unions standing together-or, I should say, moving together.”

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Each day of the strike featured a different theme, ranging from “Health Care Day” to a day focusing on the New Haven community. Public figures from John Sweeney to Rev. Jesse Jackson joined the picketers and spoke to the crowds. Rev. Jackson, who led demonstrators on a mile-long march, told the striking workers: “You deserve fair wages, a decent pension, and the right to organize. Yale is too rich for the workers to be so poor.”

BACK TO THE TABLE

Yale is the single largest employer in New Haven, with one of four local jobs at either the university or its hospital. This was the twelfth strike in Yale’s 60-year history of organized labor on campus. According to veterans of earlier labor wars, this week of action drew more participants than any that preceded it.

“There’s something remarkable happening in New Haven,” observed former Yale professor and activist Cornel West, speaking at Thursday’s demonstration. “Never before have so many come together, across race, class, and gender lines, all at one time and in one voice to ‘speak truth to power’ with compassion.”

The two sides head back to the bargaining table now, with the unions determined to win good contracts for organized workers and secure organizing rights for graduate student employees and hospital service workers.

Union members say they are ready to walk the line again if Yale does not move on all of the critical issues.